After signing his enormous 10-year, $225M extension last April, Joey Votto was well on his way to another MVP season before a July knee injury. After returning in early September, he posted a .316 AVG and .505 OBP, but the power was way down, going homerless for a .105 ISO. After starting this season like he ended last year, many were wondering if he was turning into Joe Mauer (which isn't too bad). Playing first base, power is usually essential to providing the value needed to fulfill that contract, so is he too patient to fully realize his offensive potential?
Using raw Swing%, Votto has swung at the 4th-lowest rate among the 189 qualified hitters this year. Being the main cog in the Reds lineup, many traditional pundits think he needs to be more aggressive to help the ballclub. However, it's not like he's just standing at the plate, as his BIS Z-Swing% is only the 53rd-lowest, higher than Prince Fielder, Buster Posey, and Mike Trout. None of those guys get criticized for not swinging enough, though those are the only pitches that hitters should be swinging at. I don't think anyone would argue, possibly aside from the pitcher hitting behind you with two outs, that hitters should chase pitches out of the zone to put in play. As the #3 hitter, Votto does not need to worry about that.
He is not very aggressive in hitter's counts. He has only put the ball in play ten times on the first pitch out of his 92 PA, posting a .400/.400/.700 line, similar to last year's line, not as good as expected given league-wide trends. His only 1-0 BIP resulted in a homer, and he's 3-for-4 with a 2-0 count. He's only put one ball in play on a 3-1 count, resulting in a single. With those good numbers, you would think he would benefit from swinging more when he's ahead of the count. However, pitchers know about Votto's extreme patience, pumping the middle of the plate more than normal. If Votto would swing more, pitchers would nibble a bit more, which would likely lead to worse results.
With Votto and Shin-Soo Choo each possessing .500+ OBPs, it's not surprising that the Reds lead the league in runs scored so far. Brandon Phillips has had 73 men on base for his 85 PA, able to drive in 21 and keep the merry-go-round going, along with Todd Frazier's good start. With home runs each day this weekend, Votto may be finding the power stroke, which would result in even fewer pitches to hit. As with most any phase of the game, the player's natural tendencies are generally their most successful. Votto can do plenty of damage, so Cincinnati should be lucky they have such a great disciplined hitter and let him be himself.